I once had this boyfriend who used to mock the contents of my refrigerator. Whenever he’d come over, he’d make a big deal of opening the door just to see it there was anything new in there. And there never was –just one dried-out jar of mustard, an old bottle of champagne and about 26 packets of take-out soy sauce.
“Are you sure you’re a chick?” He’d say, laughing.
I don’t know what he expected me to stock in there. I couldn’t cook. I guess that was hilarious. But then again he dumped me. So maybe on some level, it really wasn’t.
After we broke up, I vowed to get better in the kitchen. I bought a bunch of pretty food. I filled up the fridge and staged it beautifully: fresh strawberries, bunches of lettuce, cheese and lemons. I didn’t need him anymore. I had moved on.
Of course it all rotted, and I threw it out – even the cheese, which was stupid since that would have lasted a bit longer. But what did I know?
I remember washing white onions – skin and all – and putting them (still damp) in plastic Ziploc baggies to store in the fridge. One week later, I’d be throwing balls of blue mold in the trash. Boy, onions don’t stay fresh for very long, I’d think. Then again, it really didn’t matter. I couldn’t chop an onion to save my life.
Getting married didn’t change things. When my husband and I registered for wedding gifts, we blew the opportunity to collect the big-ticket kitchen gadgets. No Kitchen Aid mixer, no Cuisinart, no All Clad. Instead, we registered for Calvin Klein bedding, a shiny martini shaker and some random crystal vases. Le Creuset? Je ne le sais pas.
Since we lived in a big city with an amazing restaurant on every corner. I never felt the need to cook. When we got together with friends, it was always at a new neighborhood restaurant. I lived in Chicago 13 years, and I don’t think I ever went to more than two or three dinner parties at someone’s actual house.
Then we moved to Jcrewville, where dinner parties are the number one weekend activity.
The first time my friend Jill had us over, it blew me away. It was the week after Christmas. There were elegant votives everywhere lined with hypercium berries. She made Thai food (yes, made Thai food) – with a starter course of lemon grass soup. Dessert was peppermint ice cream that she had hand-mixed and plated with a graceful swirl of dark chocolate sauce.
Jill was so gracious and everyone had fun, laughing and eating — all in the comforts of a loving home. It was a gorgeous evening. I licked my plate and finished my wine. I was full and tired — of my culinary ineptitude.
I got home and decided to try that “cooking thing” again.
I started watching the Food Network when Elizabeth was napping, and an entire education began to unfold. Ahhhh, so that’s how you chop an onion (which I learned to store unwashed in a basket I bought for the pantry), and that’s how you sauté meat without ripping it to death…
I started slowly and stuck mostly with Ina Garten. Her recipes are simple and so soaked in olive oil, salt and pepper they always taste good. I got some good responses at home so I kept going.
I tried more recipes. I tried winging it. I even hosted a few people over for dinner. After a while, cooking got easier, enjoyable even. A glass of wine, good music in the kitchen — what’s not to love about that?
I still have a lot to learn. I cannot produce a good ham on Easter, no matter what. It’s become the family joke. My pork tenderloin isn’t always tender, and my smashed redskin potatoes are very hit or miss (but when I do hit –mmmmmmm). But if that old boyfriend were to open my fridge now he’d be shocked –fresh herbs, flavored vinegars, chunks of real parmesan and virbrant, fresh produce. He’d see inside the fridge of a well-seasoned woman who lovingly bestows her cooking talents on someone else. That’s right, Dude, someone else.
I’d tell him I not only am a chick, I know how to cook one – with lemons, garlic and a little fresh thyme…and if you don’t like that, you can stuff it.